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Turkey Kurds: The bitter politics of the football pitch

Amedspor supporters are lucky to see their team playIf ethnic tensions in Turkey are reflected on the football pitch, then Amedspor and their Kurdish following are at the very centre of the field.The club represents the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey, about 120km (75 miles) from the Syrian border, with a population of…

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Turkey Kurds: The bitter politics of the football pitch

Amedspor supporters are lucky to see their team playIf ethnic tensions in Turkey are reflected on the football pitch, then Amedspor and their Kurdish following are at the very centre of the field.The club represents the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey, about 120km (75 miles) from the Syrian border, with a population of about one million.Mahsum Kazikci, a passionate member of Amedspor’s “Resistance” fan group, reflects the feelings shared by many fellow supporters when he speaks of the “racism” the club faces.”There is a saying: ‘We will win by resisting’,” he says. “When Turks say it, there is isn’t any problem, but Amedspor fans can’t even write it on a banner. Despite this we will never change our personality, our way. We will continue on this path. We are a legal fan club of a legal football team.”The club was founded in 1990 but in 2014 they rebranded – “Amed” comes from the Kurdish name for Diyarbakir and its surrounding region. This new name is just one of the reasons behind the pressures they have faced in recent years. They are a long way from the top of Turkish football – they are not even vying for the top places in the country’s third highest division – but their games are often overshadowed by conflict and confrontation between fans. That is, when their fans are not banned from attending matches. I visited Diyarbakir on a sunny Spring Sunday when Amedspor had a home game against Sancaktepe, a team from Istanbul. None of Amedspor’s supporters were allowed in to watch. The reason for the ban stemmed from a mysterious incident in early March. Mansur Calar, an Amedspor player, was accused of slashing rival players with a razor blade during a home match with Sakaryaspor, a team from Adapazari, on 2 March. Sakaryaspor said their players had also been attacked as they inspected the pitch and again during the warm-up. After the game, on social media, players shared photos of their necks showing scarring. Pro-government media outlets called Calar a “terrorist with a razor blade”. The Turkish Football Federation banned him for life and imposed a fine of 25,000 lira (£3,500; $4,550). The penalty was later reduced to a 20-match suspension, but he still faces a judicial proceeding.Calar says he is the victim of “a political campaign against Amedspor”. “It’s nonsense,” he tells BBC Turkish. “How could a football player possibly bring a razor blade and wound his opponent? It’s impossible.”It was like a derby for us so yes, I was a bit aggressive. But those scars were made by my nails, not a razor blade. I was taking guitar lessons and my nails were a bit long.””Things I did not do went viral, out of control on social media,” he says, blaming “fake news” for the bans imposed. “When we go to an away game, the rival team’s supporters chant racist slogans against us,” he adds. “This is hard to take psychologically. Amedspor are under immense pressure and we struggle under these conditions.”It is common to see grey wolves at Amedspor’s away matches – it is a symbol adopted by Turkish nationalists. Giant Turkish flags are also waved and slogans such as “Kurds out, terrorists out” and “This is Turkey, not Kurdistan” are shouted. In 2016, Amedspor executives were beaten by a mob in the capital Ankara after a game against Ankaragucu.In 2017, Amedspor’s German-Kurdish player Deniz Naki, who had been previously convicted of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, was banned for life and accused of “spreading separatist and ideological propaganda” through his social media posts.Amedspor’s chairman, Ali Karakas, draws a parallel between such reactions and the “polarised political atmosphere” in Turkey.”Football is at the centre of politics in Turkey,” he says. “Some circles use it as a means to express their political views, as it appeals to large and young masses. And in today’s Turkey, where politicians use a discriminatory tone, that is reflected on the pitch.”Turkey has a long history of struggle and violence dating back to the 1980s between the PKK and the Turkish security forces. About 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms against the Turkish state. While the current AKP government made efforts towards reconciliation after coming to power, the Kurdish-majority south-eastern region of Turkey enjoyed only a few years of peace, between 2012 and 2015.Since 2015, Diyarbakir and its wider region have been at the centre of another phase of urban warfare between Kurdish militants and security forces.

Between July 2015 and December 2016, Turkey imposed curfews and boosted security in the region, amid political turmoil. PKK militants declared self-rule in many areas, digging trenches and building barricades in the streets. Turkish security forces retaliated with military operations. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, some 2,000 people were killed in the conflict and more than 355,000 people were internally displaced, escaping the fighting on their doorstep. In February 2016, as the violence in the region reached its peak, Amedspor players walked on to the pitch holding a giant banner that read “Children Should Not Die, They Should Come to The Match”. With this slogan, fans and the team were accused of “making terrorist propaganda” and they received a series of penalties. Supporters have been banned from over 60 away games over the past three years. “Security reasons” were given as justification.Since then, many of their slogans and banners have been deemed “ideological propaganda”.When I visited fans at the Resistance club, they were painting a banner in support of Mansur Calar ahead of their next home game, against Sancaktepe. It read: “Mansur Calar is not alone”. They hoped to get it into the stands where they were not allowed.

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Hundreds have died and thousands have been displaced since a ceasefire broke down in July.But come match day, when I stepped inside the deserted stadium, neither banner nor fans were anywhere to be seen. Supporters later told me delegates of the football federation had prevented them from displaying it. “We are legal fans of a legal club that play in the Turkish league,” says Mahsum Kazikci.”We support our team the same way as other team fans do. And we’ll continue to do that.””What shall we do?” asks fan club leader Ramazan Tugay. “If it’s a crime to say: ‘Mothers should not cry but watch their kids play football’, what shall we say? We want to shout for peace in football.”Similar feelings are expressed by Erdal Akdemir, Amedspor’s Barikat (Barricade) fan club leader. “We are citizens of this country but we also have distinct a language, culture and identity. We are Kurds and we are Amedspor’s Kurdish fans. Nobody should ignore us,” he says.The region and its Kurdish identity are seen as “the main reasons for the hostile attitude” the club faces, according to Amedspor’s female fan club leader, Beritan Akyol. She adds: “We are used to the bans and punishments as these lands are deemed as a potentially criminal region.”This sentiment is also present around the matches of Amedspor’s women’s team, who play in Turkey’s top division. Fans who are not allowed to watch Amedspor’s male team’s home games often rally behind the women’s team instead. Complaining about the heavy security presence in a match against the region’s other Kurdish-majority team, Hakkarigucu, Amedspor’s female players emerge from the changing rooms and are heard saying: “What is this, are we going to a war or a football ground?” Only a few days later, on 23 March, Amedspor manage to get permission for their fans to attend an away game in Istanbul, against Eyupspor. It is only the second away match in over three years where Amedspor supporters are allowed into the stands. There is again a heavy police presence, the security forces are quite intimidating. But with the fans’ eyes on the pitch, and police officers’ eyes on the fans, chants are heard from the Amedspor stands in support of both teams, rallying behind a message of unity. “Amedspor – Eyupspor! Hand in hand, arm in arm, both teams unite! Peace in the stadium! Hey, pro-government media, do you hear us? Do you see us chanting for peace?”

Read more:Who are the kurds?Profile: The PKKTurkey country profile

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Amedspor fan Mahsum Kazikci

Mansur Calar spoke to BBC Turkish in April

Amedspor chairman Ali Karakas

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Nuggets eliminate Trail Blazers in Game 6 of NBA playoff

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak proud of his team’s achievements despite Champions League disappointment DUBAI: Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak has declared his pride in Pep Guardiola and his players after a season that brought two domestic trophies but ended in the 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea last Saturday. Kai Havertz’s first-half goal…

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Nuggets eliminate Trail Blazers in Game 6 of NBA playoff

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak proud of his team’s achievements despite Champions League disappointment

DUBAI: Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak has declared his pride in Pep Guardiola and his players after a season that brought two domestic trophies but ended in the 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea last Saturday.

Kai Havertz’s first-half goal meant the newly crowned English champions could not complete a historic treble, but Al-Mubarak said he was “very, very proud” of what the club achieved in a difficult season.

“When you reach the Champions League final, which is the pinnacle in football and sport, I think it’s an incredible achievement,” he said. “We’ve been working hard for so many years to get to this point. It’s about building blocks, it’s about growing and achieving our targets. And to achieve targets, you’re going to miss targets. It’s part of life, it’s part of football. You win, you lose in a final, that’s football.”

Mubarak conceded that Manchester City’s involvement in the proposed European Super League was a mistake that he regretted, one that the club has learned form.

“It was a decision based on a view, which was a mistaken view, that this will improve and strengthen our position as a club,” he said. “What it missed was an important aspect which is how the fans felt about it.

“We will learn from it, I have no doubt. Our fans appreciate the heart and spirit of everything we do.”

Despite the disappointment in Porto, the season still delivered the Premier League and Carabao Cup triumphs.

“It’s been a remarkable season by any description but it’s also the culmination of years of hard work to reach a level of consistency, a level of expectation, that this club has reached now, which is a club that will compete year in, year out,” Al-Mubarak said. “You can’t win every year, but year in, year out, we’re going to be there. For 10 years in a row, we’ve been in the Champions League, no other English team has done that. Five Premier League titles in the last 10 years.”

Ten years ago, Al-Mubarak had set a target of winning five league titles in the next decade, and he now says that it wasn’t just hyperbole.

“It’s easy to say that now, but you’ve seen it happen over the last 10 years and that conviction wasn’t based on a prayer, it was based on clarity and planning, knowledge and the people we have in this club, a clear strategy and confidence in everyone to execute on it,” he said. “And then the talent. You need all of that. In a league the best team normally wins, and I think we’ve had the best team most of the time.”

“I know Sheikh Mansoor is immensely proud. His vision, going back to 2008 and what he wanted and expected over the next 10 to 12 years, has been achieved,” Al-Mubarak added. “And as we look at the next 10 years, his vision of what he hopes to achieve, I believe we are well positioned to achieve that.”

Manchester City started the 2020-21 campaign without fans and in relatively poor form, and had lost the league title to Liverpool the previous season, which for Al-Mubarak made it far more challenging one than previous years.

“It was a hybrid of two seasons because we were in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League in August, and we had no break,” he said. “There was a short period with almost no pre-season. You come back and start the news season, still in the midst of the Covid period. I remember very clearly, the Lyon loss gave us a big missing feeling. Losing the Premier League to Liverpool, in the way we lost it, then losing the Champions League, we needed to be mentally very strong to recover and come back.”

“Even at the lowest point I had no doubts that we would get it right.”

This summer club legend Sergio Aguero is leaving the Etihad for Barcelona and City’s chairman is already planning to strengthen the squad ahead of next season.

“We need to constantly bring in talent, refresh and particularly when you are at a high level, at the top,” Al-Mubarak said. “Having won the league it’s not the time to sit back and be content, that would be a big mistake. This is the time to send a message that you’re committed and bring in talent, not just for the squad but for the starting 11. We lose a legend in Sergio Aguero. Very big shoes to fill but I’m confident we will find the right player, and there are other areas of the team which need investment. Not too many, it’s not about numbers, it’s about quality.”

One thing City’s management has never wavered from is their full support for Guardiola, who has now been longer at the Etihad than at any of his other previous clubs.

“His record here, seeing his work ethic and his passion, you can’t not be confident,” said Al-Mubarak. “Another thing to note with Pep is the humanity that comes with him. He’s a very special human being. I knew he was in a tough spot, at a low point, probably back in November before he signed his contract, and I look back at our meeting when we sat together, had long discussions and really had a refresh, a realignment. I saw a man that was so disappointed, in his mind, for not delivering what he felt he needed to deliver for this club, a man who had so much hunger but felt he’d let us down.

“But he hadn’t, and that’s what I needed to make clear to him. I told Sheikh Mansoor I felt we would win the league, and I said I thought we would go far in the Champions League. I didn’t know if we were going to win it, but I thought we would go far.”

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Bahrain and UAE lead the way as Arab teams seal World Cup qualifying wins

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak proud of his team’s achievements despite Champions League disappointment DUBAI: Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak has declared his pride in Pep Guardiola and his players after a season that brought two domestic trophies but ended in the 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea last Saturday. Kai Havertz’s first-half goal…

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Bahrain and UAE lead the way as Arab teams seal World Cup qualifying wins

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak proud of his team’s achievements despite Champions League disappointment

DUBAI: Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak has declared his pride in Pep Guardiola and his players after a season that brought two domestic trophies but ended in the 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea last Saturday.

Kai Havertz’s first-half goal meant the newly crowned English champions could not complete a historic treble, but Al-Mubarak said he was “very, very proud” of what the club achieved in a difficult season.

“When you reach the Champions League final, which is the pinnacle in football and sport, I think it’s an incredible achievement,” he said. “We’ve been working hard for so many years to get to this point. It’s about building blocks, it’s about growing and achieving our targets. And to achieve targets, you’re going to miss targets. It’s part of life, it’s part of football. You win, you lose in a final, that’s football.”

Mubarak conceded that Manchester City’s involvement in the proposed European Super League was a mistake that he regretted, one that the club has learned form.

“It was a decision based on a view, which was a mistaken view, that this will improve and strengthen our position as a club,” he said. “What it missed was an important aspect which is how the fans felt about it.

“We will learn from it, I have no doubt. Our fans appreciate the heart and spirit of everything we do.”

Despite the disappointment in Porto, the season still delivered the Premier League and Carabao Cup triumphs.

“It’s been a remarkable season by any description but it’s also the culmination of years of hard work to reach a level of consistency, a level of expectation, that this club has reached now, which is a club that will compete year in, year out,” Al-Mubarak said. “You can’t win every year, but year in, year out, we’re going to be there. For 10 years in a row, we’ve been in the Champions League, no other English team has done that. Five Premier League titles in the last 10 years.”

Ten years ago, Al-Mubarak had set a target of winning five league titles in the next decade, and he now says that it wasn’t just hyperbole.

“It’s easy to say that now, but you’ve seen it happen over the last 10 years and that conviction wasn’t based on a prayer, it was based on clarity and planning, knowledge and the people we have in this club, a clear strategy and confidence in everyone to execute on it,” he said. “And then the talent. You need all of that. In a league the best team normally wins, and I think we’ve had the best team most of the time.”

“I know Sheikh Mansoor is immensely proud. His vision, going back to 2008 and what he wanted and expected over the next 10 to 12 years, has been achieved,” Al-Mubarak added. “And as we look at the next 10 years, his vision of what he hopes to achieve, I believe we are well positioned to achieve that.”

Manchester City started the 2020-21 campaign without fans and in relatively poor form, and had lost the league title to Liverpool the previous season, which for Al-Mubarak made it far more challenging one than previous years.

“It was a hybrid of two seasons because we were in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League in August, and we had no break,” he said. “There was a short period with almost no pre-season. You come back and start the news season, still in the midst of the Covid period. I remember very clearly, the Lyon loss gave us a big missing feeling. Losing the Premier League to Liverpool, in the way we lost it, then losing the Champions League, we needed to be mentally very strong to recover and come back.”

“Even at the lowest point I had no doubts that we would get it right.”

This summer club legend Sergio Aguero is leaving the Etihad for Barcelona and City’s chairman is already planning to strengthen the squad ahead of next season.

“We need to constantly bring in talent, refresh and particularly when you are at a high level, at the top,” Al-Mubarak said. “Having won the league it’s not the time to sit back and be content, that would be a big mistake. This is the time to send a message that you’re committed and bring in talent, not just for the squad but for the starting 11. We lose a legend in Sergio Aguero. Very big shoes to fill but I’m confident we will find the right player, and there are other areas of the team which need investment. Not too many, it’s not about numbers, it’s about quality.”

One thing City’s management has never wavered from is their full support for Guardiola, who has now been longer at the Etihad than at any of his other previous clubs.

“His record here, seeing his work ethic and his passion, you can’t not be confident,” said Al-Mubarak. “Another thing to note with Pep is the humanity that comes with him. He’s a very special human being. I knew he was in a tough spot, at a low point, probably back in November before he signed his contract, and I look back at our meeting when we sat together, had long discussions and really had a refresh, a realignment. I saw a man that was so disappointed, in his mind, for not delivering what he felt he needed to deliver for this club, a man who had so much hunger but felt he’d let us down.

“But he hadn’t, and that’s what I needed to make clear to him. I told Sheikh Mansoor I felt we would win the league, and I said I thought we would go far in the Champions League. I didn’t know if we were going to win it, but I thought we would go far.”

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Sixers, Hawks advance in NBA playoffs

Leonardo Jardim looks to recreate Monaco-style success after taking over at Al-Hilal  LONDON: Al-Hilal fans have had a bewildering few months. The Riyadh giants celebrated Saudi Pro League title number 17 just last week and on Tuesday appointed their fourth coach in less than four months. In February Razvan Lucescu was dismissed after 18 months…

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Sixers, Hawks advance in NBA playoffs

Leonardo Jardim looks to recreate Monaco-style success after taking over at Al-Hilal 

LONDON: Al-Hilal fans have had a bewildering few months.

The Riyadh giants celebrated Saudi Pro League title number 17 just last week and on Tuesday appointed their fourth coach in less than four months.

In February Razvan Lucescu was dismissed after 18 months in the job and the Romanian was replaced by Rogerio Micale.

The Brazilian led the Riyadh giants through the group stage of the AFC Champions League – just – but was replaced by Jose Morais at the start of May.

A month later and there is a new man, also Portuguese, at the helm.

Leonardo Jardim has the most impressive CV out of all of them.

He will need all of his experience as he prepares to occupy one of the hottest seats in the world of football, but if he can get comfortable then this could be an interesting appointment. 

The 46-year-old, who has been handed a one-year contract with the option of an extension for a further 12 months, had been linked with a number of jobs in Europe since leaving Monaco in December 2019.

The reasons are clear as his first spell in charge of the French club was seriously impressive.

After stints in charge of Braga, Olympiacos and Sporting Lisbon, he was appointed to take over at Monaco in the summer of 2014 with the club a shadow of the one that had won the French league in 2000 and reached the final of the UEFA Champions League four years later.

Despite selling influential players such as Rademal Falcao and James Rodriguez, Jardim steered Monaco to third and the quarter-finals of the Champions League in his first season.

And he won the Ligue 1 title in 2017, the first in 17 years, playing exciting football with a new group of exciting players such as Kylian Mbappe.

No doubt that this has been noted by the powers that be in Riyadh.

Here is a coach who has won major trophies in Europe and competed at the top table – but it is not just about results.

Jardim’s record in the transfer market was impressive and that bodes well as the team looks to build ahead for next season as well as the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League that are scheduled to start in September. 

Some of Hilal’s foreign contingent such as Peruvian winger Andre Carrillo, Luciano Vietto of Argentina, Italy’s Sebastian Giovinco, Gustavo Cuellar of Colombia and French goal machine Bafetimbi Gomis will leave.

With Jardim’s contacts and past deal-making abilities, he has a lot to contribute in this area. 

It is not just about buying and selling players, however.

In Monaco, the coach demonstrated that he could get the most out of the players he had.

If he is afforded time, Jardim should be able to improve the existing squad and help take the players, especially the local stars, to the next level.

That would also be a major benefit for the national team and would surely be appreciated by Saudi Arabia boss Herve Renard.

Jardim played a big part in the development of Mbappe, giving the forward a debut at the age of 16, though the boss always knew he was going to lose the young star for big money to a mega club sooner rather than later.

Other talents such as Thomas Lemar of Atletico Madrid and Manchester City duo Bernando Silva and Benjamin Mendy thrived under the Venezuelan-born boss. 

At Monaco he was able to adapt his style to the players.

At the start of his first tenure, some of the football was functional and reactive but over time, as new talent such as Mbappe came in, Jardim was able to switch and Monaco became a thrilling team to watch.

In that 2016-17 title-winning season, no team in any of Europe’s big five leagues outscored the French champions. 

As it tends to do, unlikely and spectacular success attracts attention from richer clubs and after Monaco lost a number of their stars to bigger clubs, the results suffered.

Jardim may have been fired and out of work but if he had continued with such success then he would be now coaching at the top of La Liga or the English Premier League.

All in all, Jardim is a promising appointment: he is a coach who has helped develop some of the best players in the world, knows the transfer market, is tactically flexible and can also build a team if given time.

The Ligue 1 manager of the year in 2017 is coming into a club that has just won a second successive championship, and while the pressure and expectations are at a high level, so is the talent and the resources,

The most precious resource is time however.

Al-Hilal are going through a period of success but if the club and Jardim can work well together then they may be able to move to the next — and exciting — level.

 

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